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SWISS GERMAN

Why do Switzerland’s German and French speakers disagree about easing of Covid-19 restrictions?

The opinions of German and French speakers on various issues often diverge – the cultural phenomenon commonly called the ‘Röstigraben’. They also have different views about the announced relaxation of coronavirus-related restrictions.

Why do Switzerland’s German and French speakers disagree about easing of Covid-19 restrictions?
Many Swiss want to resume normal activities soonest possible. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

This week the Federal Council announced it would be easing the coronavirus-related restrictions at the end of the month.

But not all Swiss are happy about this news.

A survey commissioned by a Swiss broadcaster SSR and published this week, shows that while people living in the Swiss German part are in a rush to lift the confinement measures, those in the French part —Romandie —  prefer a slower process.

In German-speaking Switzerland, 45 percent of respondents would like current measures to be lifted or abandoned altogether. Among French speakers, that number is only 19 percent.

Why is there such a divergence between the two linguistic regions? According to RTS television’s Andreas Stüdli, various factors are at play: 

The number of cases.

The two large French-speaking cantons of Vaud and Geneva have had far more cases than their Swiss-German counterparts.

To date, there are over 4,600 known infections in Vaud and more than 3,900 in Geneva. As a comparison, the biggest Swiss-German canton, Bern, has nearly 1,400 cases, and second-largest, Graubünden, 688. In Zurich, which has the highest population in the country, there are just 2,800 cases.

READ MORE: Coronavirus across Europe: How countries are plotting a path back to normality and is it the right time? 

Economic interests

With 63 percent of Switzerland’s population, the Swiss-German part is larger than the Romandie (22.7 percent). It follows that more businesses are located in the Swiss-German part, and they are eager to re-launch the ever-more struggling economy. 

The business associations in French-speaking regions, on the other hand, want to move slower, while advocating stronger cantonal aid for sectors such as the hotel industry, agriculture and the self-employed.

Stüdli also said that, due to their geographical proximity to France, the Romands are more influenced by the more stringent measures in that country, including the curfew.

“Germany, which is less strict, is more of a reference for German-speaking Switzerland. That certainly has an impact”, he added.

What about Ticino?

In the Italian-speaking canton, which has been one of the most impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, 27 percent of those surveyed said that the restrictions should be relaxed, so they fall between the French and German speakers.

READ MORE: What we know about the victims of the coronavirus pandemic in Switzerland 
 

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SWISS GERMAN

TEST: Is your German good enough for Swiss citizenship?

If you are planning on becoming a Swiss citizen, you are going to need to be able to prove basic competency in German. Do your language skills cut it?

TEST: Is your German good enough for Swiss citizenship?

In Switzerland, gaining citizenship or permanent residency require you to reach certain formal qualifications for speaking a Swiss language, so we’ve put together some sample questions to give you an idea of the level required. 

Being successfully integrated means that they “should participate in the economic, social and cultural life of society”, according to the State Secretariat for Migration, which includes speaking at least one of Switzerland’s languages. 

Importantly, not only must you demonstrate a certain level of linguistic proficiency in a Swiss language, but it must be in the Swiss language spoken in your part of Switzerland.

If you are an American living in the German-speaking canton of Schwyz who speaks French perfectly, you will still need to demonstrate you can speak German in order to satisfy the residency and citizenship requirements. More information about that is available here

However if you do speak French and live in a French-speaking part of Switzerland, we’ve gone into the necessary requirements below. 

READ MORE: Is your French good enough for Swiss residency and citizenship?

This article relates solely to your language ability – applying for citizenship has several other requirements, including having to demonstrate knowledge of Swiss culture and history via the citizenship test.

READ MORE: The ten most surprising questions on Switzerland’s citizenship exam

What level of German do I need for Swiss citizenship and residency?

The level of language proficiency differs depending on the type of residency permission you want: residency permit, permanent residency or Swiss citizenship. 

Fortunately for new arrivals, you do not need to show Swiss language proficiency to get a standard residency permit. 

Generally speaking, those on short-term residency permits – such as B Permits and L Permits – are not required to show proficiency in a national language. 

There are some exceptions – for instance people on family reunification permits – however by and large people who have just arrived in Switzerland for work do not need to demonstrate language proficiency. 

Permanent residents however will need to demonstrate language proficiency. 

EXPLAINED: What’s the difference between permanent residence and Swiss citizenship?

For ordinary permanent residency – which is granted after an uninterrupted stay of five years or ten years in total – you need to demonstrate A2 level of a spoken Swiss language and A1 written. 

Citizens of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain are exempt from these language requirements. 

For fast-tracked permanent residency, the language level is a little higher. You must demonstrate A1 written but B1 spoken. 

Demonstrating language proficiency must be done through an accredited test centre. The accreditation process is handled at a cantonal level. More information is available here

For citizenship, the level is slightly higher again. Candidates must demonstrate A2 level writing ability and B1 spoken skills. 

More information about language requirements – including what you need for Swiss citizenship – is available at the following link. 

EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about Swiss language tests for residency

What are the levels in question?

The current citizenship rules in place require German at levels laid out on the six-level scale of competence laid down in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).

From beginner to advanced, CEFR describes foreign language proficiency at six levels: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2. 

Keep in mind that despite these standards being adopted across much of Switzerland, they are imposed at a cantonal level. 

Cantons are free to set a higher bar if they wish, as Thurgau has done by requiring citizenship candidates to have B1-level written German and B2 (upper intermediate) spoken German. The rules are also stricter in St Gallen and Schwyz. 

The following however are generally in place across Switzerland. 

So what does A1 mean?

According to CEFR, someone with A1 capacity is a ‘basic user’ who “can use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type”.

A person at A1 level “can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.”

So what does A2 mean?

According to CEFR, A2 refers to basic users with an improved level of comprehension. Those in the A2 class “can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment)”. 

They “can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters.”

So what does B1 mean?

B1 on the CEFR scale is defined as being able to “understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc.”

A B1 candidate “can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken” and can also “produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest.”

In other words, you are not required to be able to speak perfect, error-free German, only to be able to make yourself understood and understand any replies you are given. 

Spoken B1 German is the standard required both for citizenship and for permanent residency. 

The following speaking, listening, reading and writing tests, as laid out by Germany’s Goethe Institute, relate to B1 competency. 

The nitty gritty

A full B1 test written by the Goethe Institute involves testing on four components: reading, listening, writing and speaking. You are not allowed to use a dictionary at any time during the test.

Keep in mind that the exact specifications of the test you take in Switzerland may not directly correspond to the following, however the questions themselves are a guide of the level required. 

The reading component takes 65 minutes and involves having to comprehend several texts and answer questions about them.

The listening component requires you to listen to several pieces of audio and state whether statements about them are true or false.

The written component takes an hour and requires you to write a letter as well as express your opinion on a topic.

The spoken component takes 15 minutes and is done in discussion with a partner who is also taking the exam.

Reading

The following questions come from a section of a sample test by the Goethe Institute. The text, which you can find here, talks about a project to create electricity in a village by using biogas. You need to decide which of the following options makes the statement true.

In diesem Text geht es um… 

  1. die neue Technologie von Eckhard Meier?
  2. die umweltfreundliche Stromproduktion in Feldheim? 
  3. einen Studiengang an der Universität Göttingen?

Die Wissenschaftler wollten zeigen, dass… 

  1. ein ganzes Dorf von modernen Energien leben kann? 
  2. eine Bio-Gasanlage mehr Strom produziert, als ein Dorf braucht? 
  3. man größere Mengen Strom sparen kann?

Damit die Idee auch in anderen Dörfern funktioniert… 

  1. benötigt man viel Geld. 
  2. braucht man genug Platz für die Technik. 
  3. muss die Bevölkerung dafür sein

Listening

For this section you will have to listen to audio of German people talking. The format of this section varies: for example, it could be a news report, an interview or a recorded discussion.

Here are some sample questions from a past B1 paper, in which you hear five short texts at the start of the audio (listen here). You have to decide which of the following statements about the texts are true.

Text 1 

Frau Stein soll… 

  1. die Chipkarte mitbringen?
  2. zehn Euro bezahlen?
  3. Zurückrufen?

Text 2

Herr Thomas… 

  1. möchte, dass Frau Brahms einen neuen Vertrag abschließt?
  2. braucht Zeugnisse von Frau Brahms?
  3. ruft später noch einmal an?

Text 3 

Auf der Autobahn gibt es Stau wegen… 

  1. einer Baustelle? 
  2. des Berufsverkehrs? 
  3. eines Unfalls?

Text 4 

Welcher Zug fällt aus? Der Zug nach … 

  1. Bern?
  2. Genf?
  3. Lausanne?

Text 5 

Vorausgesagt werden… 

  1. Gewitter an der Elbe?
  2. Temperaturen unter 10 Grad?
  3. Starke Regenfälle im Westen?

Reader question: What does being ‘successfully integrated’ in Switzerland mean?

Writing

In the written section of the exam you are required to compose three texts. You are given them all at the same time and so you can chose which one you begin with but you will have to complete all of them in the 60 minute time frame. 

The first task requires you to write an email to a friend addressing the following issue:

Sie haben vor einer Woche Ihren Geburtstag gefeiert. Ein Freund/Eine Freundin von Ihnen konnte nicht zu Ihrer Feier kommen, weil er/sie krank war

The email should be around 80 words in length and address the following three points:

– Describe the celebration.

– Which gift do you find especially great and why?

– Suggest a time for a meeting.

Spoken

In the spoken component of the text you must present a short speech on a topic as well as discussing a scenario with your discussion partner.

In the following situation you need to discuss what to do with your partner. 

Ein Teilnehmer aus dem Deutschkurs hatte einen Unfall und liegt im Krankenhaus. Diese Woche möchten Sie ihn besuchen und ein Geschenk von der ganzen Gruppe mitbringen. Nächste Woche kann er das Krankenhaus verlassen. Da er allein lebt, wird er Hilfe brauchen. Überlegen Sie, wie Sie ihn unterstützen können.

The discussion should last for three minutes.

You can find the full exam paper with the correct answers (at the bottom) HERE.

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